Tue, 25 Feb 2003

In memory of Dullah, the 'King of Realist Art'

Yusuf Susilo Hartono, Contributor, Jakarta

Indonesia's "King of Realist Art", Dullah, who died of a stroke on Jan. 1, 1996, enjoyed the honor of being a palace artist between 1950 and 1960, when Indonesia was under its first president, Sukarno, aka Bung Karno.

Born in Solo, Central Java in 1919, Dullah was a guerrilla fighter, who fought alongside Adam Malik against the Dutch colonial rulers and the Japanese occupational forces.

Dullah, left behind a very valuable legacy for Indonesia's fine art world, the Dullah Museum, where his great works are kept.

Another important legacy is his former students, about 90 of them, who joined his Pejeng Bali Art Workshop in various cities.

When Dullah was no longer a palace artist, he returned to Solo where he cofounded the Surakarta Cultural Association (HBS). In the 1970s, he went to Bali and established his Realist Painting Workshop in Pejeng, Gianyar, Bali, about eight kilometers from Tampak Siring presidential palace, a place where he often met president Sukarno.

It is a pity that this Pejeng Workshop, famous both at home and abroad as a place where Dullah's painting style was taught and developed, stopped its activities in 1991. In fact, this workshop began to be lackluster in 1984 when Dullah had to commute between Bali and Solo for the construction of his museum.

The museum project began in 1984 and was inaugurated by then minister of education and culture Fuad Hassan. In 1991 the second stage of the museum's construction began. Two years later, 1993, Dullah had a stroke and he died three years afterwards. His wife died the year after and he is survived by a son.

For exactly 12 years, from 1991 to 2003, the Pejeng Workshop has been inactive. This year, Dullah's former students, who realize the need to unfurl again the banner of "Dullah's realism", have decided to organize a joint exhibition called In Memory of Dullah at 678 Gallery in Kemang.

Guruh Soekarno Putra, the son of the late Bung Karno and the late Fatmawati, officially opened the exhibition. There are 90 paintings on display in the exhibition, mostly oil on canvas, of various years. Three of them are Dullah's while the rest belong to his former students (29 from Bali, seven from Yogyakarta and Solo and four from Jakarta).

The three paintings by Dullah are oil on canvas of medium sizes. They are Wayan Sasih Sitting in a Temple Festival, Road to Lot Land (1973) and Scenery of Campuhan River, Bali.

One of Dullah's students, Hendro, 40, who now works at Dullah Museum, said his guru painted these three works right in front of the object of his painting. Dullah, he said, rigorously taught his students how to paint an object directly. At the Yogyakarta Institute of the Arts (ISI), for example the ratio between theory and practice is 80 percent to 20 percent but in Pejeng Workshop it was the other way around.

Dullah believed that to paint natural scenery, the most important element was the atmosphere. The painting must not be made to look more beautiful than the original object, like in Basuki Abdullah's works, and neither must it be like a photograph because, Dullah used to say, a painting is created by means of brush, paint and canvas.

He did not allow his students to take pictures of the objects. Today, some of them paint from photographs, though. To acquire technical skills, he always encouraged his students to draw a lot of sketches and paint an object directly.

As for painting human beings and inanimate things, Dullah claimed that the key was proportion and feeling. Another important thing -- most important, perhaps, for Dullah, was that any painting must have a narrative element. An artist can achieve this element by combining two objects. Take, for example, Dullah's painting titled Wayan Sasih Sitting in a Temple Festival. The figure of the woman was painted at home while the background reflected what Dullah captured of the atmosphere of a temple festival in another place.

Dullah did not try to produce a new breed of painters exactly like him. One of his former students, Inanti, of the first generation of students, is really a carbon copy of Dullah.

Unfortunately, Inanti did not take part in this exhibition. The exhibition shows that most of Dullah's students have tried to find their own identity, though traces of "Dullahism" in terms of technique and feeling are still present. Take, for example, Hendro's work titled Last Kiss, which depicts Dullah laughing while kissing his wife, who is holding a cake. Then look also at the work of Nur Ali, Love for Grandchild, and another one by Ciu, Temple Festival.

The traces of "Dullahism" can also be found in the choice of objects that depict common daily settings such as that of a harvest, fishermen, a rite, a market, dancers, children, fruit and flowers or a tour. None of the works exhibited dwell on contemporary themes such as demonstrations, violence, terrorism and murder.

The former students of Dullah deserve a chance to revive the Pejeng Workshop, with a fresh vision, mission and spirit. Only in this way can Dullah's spirit be forever aflame.

--The exhibition is held between 21 February through 8 March at 678 Gallery, Jl. Kemang Raya No 32, South Jakarta. Open also on Sundays. Phone: (021) 71792164.